While the current round of food stamps cuts are first being felt in Mississippi, Congress is debating deeper cuts as part of the five-year farm bill. Both the House and the Senate are debating deeper food stamp cuts, but the two chambers remain far apart on the depth of those cuts.
The cost of the federal food stamp program has doubled since 2008 to nearly $80 billion annually. House Republicans are proposing $4 billion in additional food stamp cuts while the Democratic Senate leadership is proposing $400 million in cuts.
As of Nov. 1, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps benefits were reduced by about 5 percent beginning for the 47.7 million Americans dependent on the program. A family of four will receive $36 less each month because of the reduction, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The average monthly benefit per household for all 50 states and the District of Columbia last year was $278. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and USDA estimate that currently some 664,000 Mississippians or 22 percent of the entire state population were receiving food stamps during the same period with an average monthly benefit of $275.
Mississippi’s share of the SNAP reduction is $70 million and it will impact 307,000 children and 119,000 elderly or disabled residents.
Federal taxpayers pay all the food stamps benefit costs, while the state and the feds split the administrative costs - which in Mississippi aren’t cheap at close to $25 million annually.
According to USDA Federal Nutrition Service data for federal Fiscal Year 2011, the last year for which comprehensive statistics are available, SNAP program monthly participating has steady increased from 426,116 Mississippians in FY 2007 to an annual average of 622,596 Mississippians. Household utilization of the SNAP program had increased from 178,755 in FY 2007 to 273,029 in FY 2011.
The total SNAP benefits paid in Mississippi increased from $443.8 million in FY 2007 to $921.1 million in FY 2011. Average monthly per household SNAP benefits in Mississippi increased from $206.87 in FY 2007 to $281.14 per month by FY 2011. Average monthly per person SNAP benefits in Mississippi rose from $86.79 in FY 2007 to $123.29 monthly in FY 2011.
During that same year, Mississippi’s poverty rate hit 22.8 percent and just over 50 percent of Mississippi had only a high school education or less. Some 26.3 percent of Mississippians lived in households considered by the federal government to be “food insecure” or “very low food secure.”
Without question, the food stamp program has grown to unsustainable proportions. Any hope of addressing the larger national threats of federal budget deficits and the national debt hinge on getting a handle on entitlements. That means addressing eligibility for food stamp assistance and the duration of it.
As noted before in this column, Congress bears responsibility for expanding entitlements beyond their original scope without providing funding to pay for it. That’s true in terms of Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps. At inception in 1965, food stamps helped only about 561,000 Americans. Now, 47.7 million Americans are dependent. To single out food stamps cuts without comprehensive entitlement reforms is an exploitation of the poorest among us by politicians who know better.
One measure of the efficacy of the political movement that claims fiscal responsibility as its foundation will be whether bringing fiscal responsibility to Social Security and Medicare will be approached with the same vigor as has bringing restraint to the food stamp program.
(Daily Corinthian columnist Sid Salter is syndicated across the state. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)